Separatist Pietism, Defensive Evangelicalism, and Reformed Kuyperianism: 3 Different Futures for Your Christian Community

So you don’t need to have a PhD to see that we are in a fluid situation. It’s getting pretty wet out there. Amid the waves, many Christians are considering which way to swim. As Bob Dylan observed, “The times they are a-changin.” And change can really throw people. What just happened? And what are we to do now?

What Just Happened?

You might say that paganism bought a house. She has been with us for a while of course. She’s been making deposits in her savings account. But now she has established herself in the community. She purchased land and owns a structure that all the townsfolk can see. Many eyes are not pleased by the new aesthetic in the community. Several people around town have no palate for the company she keeps, her festivities, nor her yard signs, which range from “Black Lives Matter” on one side of the lawn to a “Rainbow Flag” on the other, with a “Mask Up to Love Your Neighbor” somewhere up by the front door. Doctrine will always be adorned (Titus 2:10). It is not whether you will have works of faith, but which faith will manifest itself through works—the true faith or the false faith.

Via Rod Dreher and Christopher Caldwell, I was recently put on to an article by the French political theorist Chantal Delsol entitled, “The End of Christianity.” I’d want to edit several things in Delsol’s article. But her piece can help American Christians see the inevitability of religion informing society. It also highlights the false religion flowering all around us. She writes, “At the start of the twenty-first century, the most established and most promising philosophical current is a form of cosmotheism.” Note, cosmotheism is the attribution of deity to the cosmos itself, contrary to Christianity which teaches that God is set apart from the cosmos.

Delsol continues, “Our Western contemporaries no longer believe in a beyond or in a transcendence. The meaning of life must therefore be found in this life itself, and not above it, where there is nothing. The sacred is found here: in the landscapes, in the life of the earth, and in humans themselves . . . Under cosmotheism, man feels at home in the world, which represents the only reality . . . Under monotheism, man feels a stranger in this immanent world and longs for the other world. For the monotheist, this world is only a temporary lodging. For the cosmotheist, it is a home. The postmodern mind is tired of living in a temporary lodging! It needs a home of its own . . . One becomes a cosmotheist again because one wants to reintegrate oneself into this world as a full citizen.”

Delsol highlights just how motivated the cosmotheist will be when he exercises his religion down here. Down here is all he has. He is god, we are god, the earth is god, and we must fervently pursue god’s plan. The lie of secularism was that we would all just share the space down here, leaving deity out of it. The truth is deity can never be left out of it. Devotion to the True God or the false gods will always inform a given civilization. The times they are a-changin because the faith that informs the times is a-changin. It is changing from the Christian faith to the pagan or cosmotheist faith. So how will Christian communities respond?

What Are We to Do Now?

I see three different futures coming for Christian communities. My point is not that every Christian community presently fits neatly into one of these categories. You may have traces of all three where you are. Again, we are in a fluid situation. The point is, given the times Christian communities will increasingly track down one of these lines. And which way they track matters. These roads are not all created equal. I’m an advocate for the third. And by the way I’m not married to the names, but I had to call them something.

Separatist Pietism

The first option is separatist pietism. And I’m not just talking Mennonites. This group includes all of those who have succumbed to a strong sacred-secular divide, and then located all of the important things in the sacred sphere. They see the societal chaos and have resolved that it is all outside of their jurisdiction. This world is not their home. They are in no danger whatsoever of being called a Christian Nationalist. They want to keep politics out of the church and the church out of politics.

This group fits well with Delsol’s description of the monotheist above, “Under monotheism, man feels a stranger in this immanent world and longs for the other world. For the monotheist, this world is only a temporary lodging.” This separatist pietism has separated and undone the relationship between the other world and this world, the heavens and the earth, the spiritual and the physical, the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The world is not a place to be brought into submission to Christ. It is merely temporary lodging. Earthly existence totalizes at getting individuals converted, ensuring they have their ticket to ride to heaven upon death. In their view, the rising civil friction simply hinders the Christian witness aimed at getting individuals justified, which is the only goal Christians have.

Defensive Evangelicalism

A second trajectory is defensive evangelicalism. These folks emphasize the gospel, with a particular focus on conversion and justification—to which all Christians everywhere render a hearty amen. This second group shares a sacred-secular divide with separatist pietism. But unlike the separatist pietists, they care about what happens in the secular space. They understand that they still have to live down here. Particularly, they have had it with the woke nonsense. They are fed up with social justice. They don’t fully grasp the Lord’s Prayer when it says the kingdom of God is to come on earth as it is in heaven. But they do want decent neighbors.

The difficulty these Christian communities will face arises from their bisected worldview. The way they have divided the sacred and secular leaves them often operating in a secular way when in “secular space.” They have to leave off heaven to engage on earth. And they leave off earth when engaging in heaven. Their temptations will be to pragmatism, selfishness, worry, and sinful anger. They are heavy on individualism and downplay or disregard altogether the implications of God’s salvation for society. They grasp Christ’s Lordship over individual Christians and the church, but they do not uphold His Lordship over all things. These communities will see the problems. But they will miss the cause of the problems, the whole picture, and a robust solution.

Reformed Kuyperianism

The final approach is well positioned to advance amid these changing times in large part because of a healthy sense of the relationship between heaven and earth. This earth is not merely temporary lodging, the error of separatist pietism. Neither is this earth our only home, the error of cosmotheism and the error that defensive evangelicalism is tempted toward. Rather, the earth is the place of Christ’s dominion as the Second Adam who has come. Heaven has been opened and the angels ascend and descend upon the Son of Man (John 1:51). The kingdom of heaven is at hand and the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15).

A Reformed Kuyperian community understands that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The world we inhabit already belongs to Christ. And He will continue to advance His rule on earth unto His return. This confidence defuses the shrill anxiety of defensive evangelicalism and gives earthly expression to the heavenly orientation of pietism. These communities will be marked by corporate worship, dominion, joy, entrepreneurship, education, an appreciation for the visible and universal church, and assurance that the nations are Christ’s possession.

It’s Time to Swim

The times are such that loads of Christians are considering where to plant their flag, where to raise kids and grandkids. They’re determining how to develop Christian community, be it the one they are in or one they might head to. There’s a lot to consider when making these decisions. There is a lot of theology and worldview at play. Several hard things must be done as you weigh the costs of imbedding your family into a Christian community that can navigate what Delsol and others have coined the very end of Christendom. You need not fear. As Chesterton said, “Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.

So, you need not fear. But you do need to understand the significance of the present moment and choose your Christian community wisely. Every moment in the game matters. But not every moment is the fourth quarter. Not every moment is bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded. But take a look around, here we are. And as you walk up to the plate, they’re playing Dylan over the loudspeaker—

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’